[FoRK] Upping the competence factor...

jbone at place.org jbone at place.org
Mon Mar 15 19:45:04 PST 2004

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Last update: March 15, 2004 at 7:48 PM
Kerry's tactics: Rapid 'pre-sponse'
Scott Shepard, Cox News Service

March 16, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As John Kerry moves forward as the presumptive 
Democratic presidential nominee, the broad outline of his general 
election strategy against President Bush is becoming apparent, and it 
is the most aggressive campaign a Democrat has run in decades.

The Kerry tactics surpass even the legendary "war room" approach of the 
Clinton campaign in 1992, serving up "pre-sponses" to Bush campaign 
events instead of responses to the president and his Republican allies.

And they seem to have caused a sputter in the much-vaunted Bush 
political machine at an important point in the campaign -- when the 
president is anxious to define the Massachusetts senator before the 
senator can define himself, much as the president's father defined his 
opponent, then Gov.-Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, in the 1988 

"John Kerry is no Michael Dukakis," said Darrell West, a Brown 
University professor who has closely followed Kerry's 19-year career in 
the Senate.

"He will respond immediately to any Bush attacks to make sure news 
stories carry the rebuttal. His goal is to make sure negative 
information does not stick to him. If you can rebut charges right away, 
it reduces the odds that voters will believe them."

In fact, the Kerry campaign does not wait to respond.

On Thursday, hours before the Bush campaign began its first television 
ads attacking Kerry, the senator's "war room" had distributed rebuttal 
facts by e-mail to hundreds of political reporters, set up a conference 
call with Kerry surrogates and made Kerry officials available to 
television news programs. It also responded with TV ads of its own on 

Nearly the same thing happened Wednesday, when the president appeared 
with a group of businesswomen to promote his economic policies, and 
again on Friday, when he touted his record on promoting international 
women's rights.

Well-chosen Kerry surrogates offered criticism of the president on each 

"We're just not going to let Senator Kerry's record be distorted," Sen. 
Jon Corzine, D-N.J., said during a conference call with reporters to 
rebut the Bush charge that the senator intends to raise taxes.

In most instances last week, the Kerry rebuttal was public record 
before the Bush charges were aired, a much more aggressive approach 
than Bill Clinton's of 1992, where the objective was to respond to 
attacks during the same news cycle rather than a day or two later.

By the end of the week, the Kerry campaign moved a portion of its "war 
room" to the Internet, establishing a rapid response "D-Bunker" Web 
site intended to debunk Bush charges.

Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said the "war room" operation 
was set up during the Democratic primaries to respond to Bush and the 
White House, even as the senator pursued his party's nomination.

"We were engaged in battle on two different fronts ... making the case 
to [Democratic] voters ... [and] to make sure that the White House is 
very certain that we are going to defend Senator Kerry's record while 
we advance his ideas and cause," Cahill said.

Bush camp's response

Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman suggested that there is an element of 
desperation in the Kerry campaign's approach to criticism.

"The Kerry campaign, when it feels it has a vulnerability, has a very 
defensive, kind of reactive approach," Mehlman said. "I think it is 
clear watching them that they believe, for instance, they are 
vulnerable on Senator Kerry's long and consistent record to cut defense 
and to cut intelligence and to weaken some of the key parts of the war 
on terror.

"And I think that, as a result, when you mention any of those issues, 
there is a disproportionate reaction because they feel vulnerable on 
that issue."

But David Ginsberg, a key figure in the 2000 Gore-Lieberman "war room," 
which was modeled after Clinton's, said the Kerry campaign has no 
choice but to be aggressive early in the general election contest 
because first impressions are as important in politics as in life.

"The Kerry campaign is doing an excellent job of hitting back strong 
and fast," said Ginsberg, who was communications director of the John 
Edwards presidential campaign before it ended this month.

The Clinton "war room" was largely a reaction to Dukakis four years 
earlier allowing George H.W. Bush to paint him as soft on crime by 
making a household name out of Willie Horton, a black Massachusetts 
inmate who raped a woman while on prison furlough. That year, the Bush 
campaign erased a 17-point poll lead that Dukakis held after his 
nomination in Atlanta.

Early, but earnest start

The 2004 general election is still 7½ months away, but the contest 
between Kerry and Bush has begun in earnest.

The early start of the general election campaign poses pitfalls for 
both camps, however, according to political analysts, but the greater 
danger may be the one the president faces.

"Rapid response impresses political junkies, but it may overload 
ordinary voters," said John Pitney, a former Republican National 
Committee operative who now teaches political science and government at 
Claremont McKenna College in California.

On the other hand, "the Kerry campaign may be moving too fast, but the 
Bush campaign is in danger of moving too slowly," Pitney said. And, "in 
politics as in war, fast is better than slow."

Indeed, by the end of the week, some key Republican officials were 
publicly expressing some concerns about the Bush campaign getting off 
to a sputtering start.

"People are anxious," David Carney, a Republican strategist in New 
Hampshire and White House director for Bush's father, told the Los 
Angeles Times. "There's a lot of fretting going on out there."

On to 'dialogue'

But Mehlman insisted that the presidential contest between Bush and 
Kerry was now shifting "from a diatribe to a dialogue" about "big 
issues" such as tax cuts and the war on terrorism.

"I am confident that we have built the organization, husbanded the 
resources and know what we need to talk about now that we are publicly 
engaged," he said.

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